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A Heart So White (2002)

A Heart So White (2002)
4.02 of 5 Votes: 5
0811215059 (ISBN13: 9780811215053)
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A Heart So White (2002)
A Heart So White (2002)

About book: ”Listening is the most dangerous thing of all, listening means knowing, finding out about something and knowing what’s going on, our ears don’t have lids that can instinctively close against the words uttered, they can’t hide from what they sense they’re about to hear, it’s always too late.”Juan is trained to listen to people. He is a professional translator, so when he is listening to conversations it comes in his ears in one language and comes out his mouth in another language. He is the only person in the room that fully understands the conversation. His job is to make sure there are no misunderstandings. When he meets Luisa for the first time she is the person there to insure that he is doing his job properly while translating a conversation between two heads of state. Juan slips in his own suggestions into the translations, a puppet master, which he is not supposed to do. He is really just flirting with Luisa and seeing what she will do. Wouldn’t life be easier if we could just write the dialogue for other people? Your spouse, your friends, your coworkers. If only we could stop time, our own fermata key, and scrub out an errant response and just rewrite it, but then life would be a novel where all the dialogue is pitch perfect. Conversations are very messy. Think of the fumbling around and miscues that lead to misunderstandings. Sometimes it is hours later before our minds conjure up what would have been the best possible words in the best possible arrangement. Juan has that power. He can clean up conversations and gently nudge events in a direction that he feels will lead to a more productive exchange of words. It is kind of scary actually. Javier Marias tips us off to what is on his mind with the very title of this book. My hands are of your color; but I shameTo wear a heart so white.Macbeth William ShakespeareHe carefully weaves the thread of Macbeth throughout the novel. What we hear can not be unheard. When we know, we are complicit. As I was making notes about some of the more striking passages of Marias writing, which began to get ridiculous, especially, when I made the realization that I was noting something on nearly every page, I discovered that he is not a writer concerned with pithy beautiful one liners. He uses whole paragraphs with complex thoughts circling one another like a dance. I found myself thinking I understood what he was saying only to read it again and find another layer and another layer until I’m convinced, despite the archaeological dig I’ve performed on his words, that I’m still missing something very important hidden in the hieroglyphics of his intentions.”If nothing of what happens happens, because nothing happens without interruption, nothing lasts or endures or is ceaselessly remembered, what takes place is identical to what doesn’t take place, what we dismiss or allow to slip by us is identical to what we accept and seize, what we experience is identical to what we never try; we pour all our intelligence and our feelings and our enthusiasm into the task of discriminating between things that will all be made equal, if they haven't already been, and that’s why we're so full of regrets and lost opportunities, of confirmations and reaffirmations and opportunities grasped, when the truth is that nothing is affirmed and everything is constantly in the process of being lost. Or perhaps there never was anything.”Juan marries Luisa although I do wonder if he loves her or if he just felt it was time to get married. He does ponder, with such objectivity, the advantages of sleeping with someone, not in regards to sex, but all the other things such as comfort, not being alone, and the pleasantness of knowing that someone you trust literally has your back. Juan/Javier wants to understand everything, even those mundane things, that the rest of us accept, without thinking about. Why do we do what we do?I’ve been overlooking a lot I’m afraid. Life needs to leave more juice on my chin. Juan’s job and Luisa’s as well, though less so now that she has married, takes them away for work sometimes eight weeks at a time. He ends up in New York staying with a friend and fellow translator, Berta, who he once had a relationship fifteen years. I don’t think that Luisa knows that they had a fling because I can’t imagine anyone would feel comfortable with their spouse hanging out with any old flame. As it turns out Luisa has nothing to worry about, whatever spark was once there is no longer striking the flint. Juan becomes caught up in Berta’s search for a new man. Lets just say things become more strange/comical the more he tries to help her. He is surprised to find that the longer he is away the more he has twinges of the green eyed monster in regards to the family friend... Custardoy the Younger. Custardoy the Older was the original best friend of Juan’s father Ranz, but after he passed away Custardoy the Younger stepped into his father’s shoes. Custardoy knows things about Juan’s father that Juan doesn’t know, not necessarily because his father has meant to withhold these things from his son, but with all children we tell them edited versions of the truth expecting at some point when they are older to tell them more. Custardoy is the type of guy that you would not feel comfortable leaving your wife, girlfriend, pet chinchilla, or any female friend you care for at all alone with him. He has, in Juan’s opinion, a bit of a fixation on Luisa although this is easily disregarded (but not totally so) because Custardoy has a fixation on any reasonably attractive female that happens to pass by in range of his lascivious eyes. Luisa becomes obsessed with learning Ranz’s secrets. She knows that due to his affection for her that she can wrangle them from him. Juan is unsure he wants to know. His relationship with his father is very good and there is always the possibility that knowing more will change the dynamics of what has really become a friendship beyond just father and son. Luisa’s insistence is slightly annoying, but then a novelist can’t dangle something like this and not come through for us. There are a lot of people that insist knowing everything is preferable to not knowing. I tend to fall into the category of never wanting to pry. If people want to tell me something then I’m happy to listen, but I never want to be the guy that corners anyone into telling me anything they don’t want to tell me. We learn a lot about secrets as we grow older, maybe because we start to accumulate them. Some people like to be open books telling everyone, even strangers, the most intimate details of their lives. Telling someone something in confidence is usually the same thing as telling everyone. They tend to tell someone your secret “in confidence” and so on and so forth until everyone eventually knows. If you want to keep something secret you must bear the burden of telling no one. Ranz tells Custardoy something confidential. Custardoy intimates that he knows this secret to Juan. Juan then discusses this disturbing if incomplete knowledge he acquired from Custardoy with Luisa. Luisa must know the rest. After all wouldn’t it be best for all their interlocking relationships for the truth to be known? You might think to yourself what a slender volume this is at 246 pages.You might be fooled into thinking it will consume an afternoon, but that will not be the case. The book will consume days mainly because you will quickly find that you must not be disturbed, in the slightest, when you are reading this book. Thoughts trek across paragraphs and on into pages. You must follow the string of evolving concepts or you will be lost. You will probably need to reread passages anyway, but it would be tragic if you missed something merely because you think this is novel, an entertainment, a killer of time. Marias captures you in a page and holds you hostage. He demands that you listen and think and think some more. You will emerge from reading this novel with more astute eyes. You will ponder your new self and realize that Marias has shared much more with you than a few interesting insights, but actually something more akin to a philosophy. Don’t be afraid. This is why we read after all. Highly Recommended! number of pages of made-time that it takes for Javier Marías to get anywhere is simultaneously relaxing in its pace and frustrating in its ramble. But what better activities does one have to do with one's time than to sit still with a book written by a master-observer regarding the human condition? There are few topics the author fails to elaborate on within his process, the hours of contemplation required in finding and eventually knowing his subjects well. In simple big-time wrestling terms, sentences elaborately structured with such sophistication and care that even a lesser reader might employ its own standing head scissors before Marías takes his precise and finishing aim with an incoming pile driver. Ha! The entire novel kept me waiting for what was to come. I could not foretell the ending nor know the direction of the exit he might be headed for. For lack of better terms let us name this brilliant crafting suspense within a literary elaboration.Often I find myself nodding in agreement with Marías regarding relationships, especially marriage. But his complicated nuances between father and son, mid-life renewals of childhood friendships, work environments and travel, affairs both present and past, all contribute to the measured extravagance almost exploding on every page. Memory often plays an integral part in the Marías oeuvre, at least it has in the few titles I have thus far read. Whether these recollections can be trusted, or the fictions made real, all stories told or heard are subject to a bit of untruth or embellishment at the least. It is refreshing to read Marías in the sense of his having already considered his ideas extensively before setting them down on the page. He seems to exhaust every possibility in arguing his case for whatever position might be adhered to by one of his characters. He is not only a brilliant writer but gifted in making what he writes extremely interesting, though long-winded. But for one who revels in the rhythm of time, and has nothing more useful to do than enjoy a fine and lofty musical performance, then Marías is the writer meant for you. And if questioning one's motives or wanting to trust in another human being is just your cup of tea, then Marías is also a good resource to reference to, as any doubt which might exist in one of our preconceived or well-thought notions this great author will raise doubts beyond any small measure. But still the angst augured is relaxing in its own way. And the consequences sometimes light in regard to the manner in which he gets us there. Somewhat like a lazy ride on calm water in a whisper-quiet motorboat. These Marías characters never surprise me with their secrets and suspicions. All relationships have them. Marías is a master at identifying anything and everything that might become questionable or in need of further thoughtful consideration. If he writes of someone dying, and perhaps he already has and I am not aware of it just yet, then it would most certainly be the slowest of deaths. The suffering process would drag out, time would stand still as it often does in uncomfortable, dreadful situations. And the novel here does this as well. Secrets that demand to be told with all their budding questions answered. Unavoidable realizations and an understanding of an awful incident in the past, an almost hopeless situation if the dire consequences had actually been avoided, a forgiving comprehension necessary in order to process the information successfully without wanting to do your own self in. But then, as always, a complicit exercise where the innocent party carries a burden of guilt and shame just by knowing and agreeing to be tolerant, to continue to be still loving and abiding, no matter the questionable facts regarding the dated crime. Javier Marías is one of the most gifted novelists writing today. He is so clever and kind with his words that his vicious grip is administered unexpectedly. When applied correctly against an opponent the mandible claw is a maneuver which is regarded by fellow wrestlers to cause intense, legitimate pain. The aggressor places his middle and ring fingers into the opponent's mouth, sliding them under the tongue and jabbing into the soft tissue found at the bottom of the mouth. The rest of the same hand is placed under the jaw, and pressure is applied downward by the middle and ring fingers while the thumb and/or palm forces the jaw upwards.
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Just after her honeymoon, a young woman kills herself at a family dinner in Madrid; 45 years later, the late woman's nephew - the narrator - wonders why. He's just had a honeymoon, too, and is wondering what it was about this time in life that disturbed her so much. That's a big mystery; other, smaller questions keep the reader hanging on every word...literally. In the latter half, Marias repeats words and phrases used earlier in the novel; they didn't seem particularly salient at first, yet you'll be surprised how well you recognize them upon repetition. This technique invites you to study and care for each utterance in life and art.In short, you could get a textually-transmitted disease from this one. Marias writes like Proust if he'd been a page-turner, or like Lydia Davis if she decided to be Henry James for a change. When not quaking Iberian literature, Marias claims to be the king of Redonda, an uninhabited Caribbean island; as king he grants duchys to his favorite living writers and filmmakers.
Vit Babenco
“Recounting an event distorts it, recounting facts distorts and twists and almost negates them, everything that one recounts, however true, becomes unreal and approximate, the truth doesn't depend on things actually existing or happening, but on their remaining hidden or unknown or untold…”A Heart So White is in a way an anatomy of wedlock – a scrupulous analysis of man and wife relations in general and discovering a family secret in particular. A secret as grand and dramatic as in Jane Eyre and relations as psychologically intricate as in Wuthering Heights but the times are modern and the manners are different and the morals are looser.Life brings surprises and sorrows but it goes on and whatever happens in our lives seems “to belong to the past. Everything does, even what is happening now.”
This novel by acclaimed-Spaniard-who-has-yet-to-be-recognized-in-the-US was given to me by my boyfriend, who strongly prefers books that tell you a story and let you make your own judgment, rather than stories that are too morally guided. Reading a story for the story is all well and good, but when you buy your girlfriend a book, expect her to read into things and to take things at least a tad personally (especially if it involves a man thrice widowed and a stranger threatening to kill his wife). All this preamble is to say, though on literary merit this book deserves four stars, my estrogeny mind can at best give it three. Why it's deserving: Marias is a subtle skilled writer and grasps the psychological nuances that everyone faces. The organization of the plot, or rather the unfolding of the mystery is deliberately slow in coming, and the effect allows the reader to ruminate and ponder and itch and discover much like the narrator does. The use of repetition allows themes to run consciously through the book, highlighting the cogitative (ha!) style of the prose. Finally, the title and a major theme of the book derive from Shakespeare's Macbeth, in which Lady Macbeth (doesn't) console her husband after he has just murdered Duncan. The discussion of Shakespeare by the author and its relevance to A Heart So White is well incorporated and thoughtful.Why the translation may be a dicey read: Sadly, I think most of the beauty of the prose (if there was any to begin with) was lost in translation. Furthermore, the fact that the translation is in stylized and often incorrect English made it worse. Overall, I found the quality of the prose (translation or not) to be a plodding, meandering, run-on-till-the-cows-come-home kind of read. Maybe all Spaniards talk and write like that. Maybe editors are used less. Maybe I just prefer Hemingway and Fitzgerald to this exhausting crap. Why it made me want to tear my hair out:Let us just say, this book was the psychological equivalent of a chick giving Pride and Prejudice to a dude. I imagine the dude reads it an thinks: really?! Now, as forewarned in the preamble, I get that I am reading too much into this, but this is why it made my want to tear my hair out: 1) This narrator needs a slap in the face. After spending 300 pages swirling around in his brain, I'm ready to shake him vigorously and tell him to get a fucking grip. Dude is whiny, without conviction, and way too self involved. I've had this reaction with other novels (e.g. The Emperor's Children), and I'm sure antagonizing or provoking the reader is part of the point, but to me, it's the psychological equivalent of being curled up in the fetal position and sucking your thumbs. 2) Women never get a fair shake: Perhaps as can be expected in a southern European novel but while there are deep characterizations of father, son, son's friend, none of the women get even a fraction of that consideration. Instead, they are wrapped up into a kind of archewoman who thinks and acts the same, has the same motivations, and participates in a sphere closed off to or ignored by men. The gender roles and uniformity expressed by the author is infuriating. 3) Dude hates marriage: Of the 300 pages, at least 60 are in some way devoted to hating on the institution of marriage. The arguments are fatalistic, immature, and well, yuck.I've expressed this all to said boyfriend, and he just chuckled and told me there was no hidden meaning and it was just a story. To that, I say: you read Pride and Prejudice and then we'll be even. Signing out.
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